From the Homefront: Finding college scholarships for military kids

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 15 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network.

When Madeleine Hayes graduated from high school, she had been awarded more than 15 scholarships for college. She is a freshman this year at the University of Texas. Photo courtesy of Tammy Hayes.

When Madeleine Hayes graduated from high school, she had been awarded more than 15 scholarships for college. She is a freshman this year at the University of Texas. Photo courtesy of Tammy Hayes.

Madeleine applied for about 50 scholarships, and she was awarded enough money to cover all of her educational expenses and some of her living expenses.

Tammy Hayes, Madeleine’s mom, attributed their success rate to persistence in locating scholarship opportunities, remaining organized throughout the process, and Madeleine’s extracurricular experiences and her essays.

When others at school saw Madeleine’s persistence, they took notice and helped out.

“Once her counselor saw how motivated she was in her scholarship quest she started pulling her out of class to give her new applications she found,” Hayes said.

It was all about the binder. Hayes and her daughter put together a binder that held everything necessary for applying for scholarships. It was organized by deadline date so they wouldn’t miss anything. Page protectors held copies of her transcripts, letters of recommendation, and her federal student aid report through the U.S. Department of Education.

The binder also held some prewritten, generic essays that they could tweak for specific applications.

Madeleine is a Coast Guard kid – her dad, who was the command master chief in Sector Columbia River, Oregon, retired in 2013 after 30 years of service. She used her experience as a military child as the foundation for many of the essays she wrote for scholarship applications, Tammy Hayes said. Finding that anchor for the essays is a key to getting organized to apply for scholarships, she said.

“Find your hook for the essay,” Hayes said. “My daughter’s was mostly about the struggle of relocating during high school and moving to a location without the Coast Guard community she had depended on with previous moves.”

Students studying. Photo credit Pexels.

Students studying. Photo credit Pexels.

The Hayes family also kept a running spreadsheet to track applications – it included submission dates, the potential award amount, the date a decision was made, when they sent a thank you note, and finally, the date the scholarship funds were deposited into her college account.

Hayes advises parents not to shy away from applying for scholarships, even if they think their earnings will put them out of the running. The Hayes family’s income exceeds the levels for need-based scholarships, so all of Madeleine’s scholarships were based on merit, Hayes said.

Hayes also said that school activities and community service give students an edge on scholarships. She said she highly recommends that students get very involved in “outside of school” activities and seek out leadership roles at school or in the community at large.

“[Her scholarships] were all merit-based, so that is where the extracurriculars and work experience and community service come into play,” Hayes said. “And obviously you have to be gearing your kids up to be involved early on. But they gain so much character and confidence from participating in all those activities.”

Hayes has a list of tips she would offer other military families looking for scholarships:

  • See if your high school provides a spreadsheet of scholarships and their deadlines. Google other area high schools to see if they offer one. The Hayes family used more than one high school’s spreadsheets.
  • If an application requires a membership fee for the organization sponsoring the scholarship, it may be worth joining. “Usually the membership fee was small enough we decided to join,” Hayes said. “It was a little risk but more than worth it when she won a few, plus the organizations support a lot of great programs.”
  • If your child has a particular talent, look up local organizations that support that talent. “We were constantly searching online for arts and service organizations in our area looking for available scholarships,” Hayes said. Madeleine was successful auditioning for fine arts scholarship programs.
  • Search for scholarships specific to the student’s intended major. “There are a ton!” Hayes said.
  • Apply for the smaller scholarships, not just the big ones. Madeleine received $500 from a local wood turner’s club – it was giving out two scholarships, and only five people applied. “Very few students will take the time to do them,” Hayes said. “But because of that your chances are better.”


Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.


Free Application for Federal Student Aid: This federal student aid website is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.

Commissary scholarship: Military commissaries offer scholarships of $2,000 through the Fisher House Foundation. Applicants do not have to live near a commissary to be eligible.

Coast Guard Foundation: The foundation provides six different scholarships to the children of active duty, reserve, and retired members of the Coast Guard.

Non-Commissioned Officer Association: The association offers scholarships to the children of members, including auxiliary members.

Fleet Reserve Association: The FRA education foundation was established to assist dependents and descendants of those who have served in the Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, or the U.S. Marine Corps. Scholarships are not only available to children, but also to grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who have served.

Coast Guard Mutual Assistance: CGMA offers both grants and loans to help families pay for college. Each one has different eligibility requirements.

Coast Guard Scholarship Resources: This link opens the path to several pages of scholarship resources for Coast Guard kids.

Military Child Education Coalition: This nonprofit has culled information about several scholarships for military kids.

The Coast Guard Exchange System Scholarship Program: These scholarships are awarded to dependents of Coast Guard active duty, reserve, retired, and auxiliary members for academic achievement and leadership accomplishments.

What tips do you have for finding scholarships for military kids? Are there any scholarships you recommend? Share your thoughts below!

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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